Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eastward Bound

I awoke at 4:30 am on Sunday, hardly rested from the weekend's activities. I was in Phoenix for my brother's wedding. It was a beautiful intimate celebration. Fortunately, we were only outside in the 110 degree heat, wearing our fully complimented tuxes, for about 15 minutes. However, a schedule filled with family outings and wedding preparations left little time for pre-travel relaxation. Short on sleep and stressed-out, I needed a lot of things to go right on my way to Chusclan.

First, I was hoping to fly stand-by on the early flight from Phoenix to Chicago. That would give me plenty of time to meet my friends, Kevin and Rachel, at O'Hare airport. They were bringing my dog, Roxy, who would make the international trip with me. Luckily, I made the early flight from Phoenix, unluckily, I was seated between three teenage brothers. Through three hours of flight they were in pertpetual motion.

Arriving early to Chicago, I had time to get lunch and watch the first half of the US vs. Brazil soccer game. After two early goals by the US, I left thinking that an upset was at hand. Maybe this was my lucky day.

I met Kevin, Rachel and Roxy at the O'Hare Hilton. There was some grass for Roxy to get a few final sprints in befor
e being stowed for 10 hours. When it was time, she acquiesced and entered the crate without complaint. I wheeled her through the international departures line on a push cart rented for $3 - outrageous; they used to be free with deposit. The lady at the counter hastily read the online instructions for checking a pet and hardly glanced over the stack of papers that I had been warned by the airline to bring. Roxy was then carted over to TSA for a final security check. Her water bottle was checked for explosives residue, but she didn't even have to go through a metal detector. Then we parted ways as she received valet treatment to the cargo hold.

Following the hand-off, I briefly freaked-out when I couldn't find my boarding pass. In all the commotion at the ticket counter, I had slipped the ticket deep into my carry-on bag. Eventually, I settled down and made my way through security to the gate. As the plane was being boarded, the staff radioed down to the cargo crew to verify that Roxy had been loaded onto the plane. I hoped that the temperature would be OK for her. The forecast had been for 81 degrees; if it had been 85, the airlines would not have accepted Roxy.
At 5:00 pm CST, it looked like we might leave well ahead of schedule. However, we had no such luck as we waited for a connecting flight to arrive. 5:30, an on time push-off from the gate. But this is O'hare, we waited another 45 minutes on the tarmac. I was sweating in the cabin; I wondered how Roxy was handling the heat. Right before take-off, I looked up the soccer final: USA 2, Brazil 3.

The flight was uneventful, but I just couldn't sleep. I did manage to read the entire Economist, though. I had no idea that the Torries were applying such pressure to Gordon Brown's Labor Party - it's a British publication.

Charles De Gaulle AirportImage by matt.hintsa via Flickr

Upon landing, we stopped in front of one of Charles de Gaulle's myriad concourses. Typical for international connections, we disembarked onto the tarmac and took buses to the terminal. From my window seat, I could see Roxy being unloaded in her kennel. She was probably first off the plane.

After breezing through the passport check with my new French visa, I headed down to the baggage claim. Our checked luggage was already on the belt. There are few areas where European efficiency can be lauded; baggage claim is one of them. I asked an attendant in my best broken French where I could find my chien (dog). I pretended to understand the answer, but she repeated in English guessing my confusion. Right behind the next counter, Roxy was waiting for me. I looked for someone to verify my claim ticket, but apparently anyone could have snatched the kennel.

The nearest airport employee suggested that I let Roxy out of the kennel. Two security guards suggested that she needed a muzzle. I said I get one at my earliest convenience. And then, just like that, we scurried past customs and legally entered France. So much for all those papers that I paid the vet and the USDA to endorse.

Mary Ann had arrived via a different itinerary to a different terminal. Roxy and I started walking over to her location, at first outside and then inside to enjoy the air conditioning. At about terminal 2D, Roxy decided that it was time to pee. Despite my best efforts to drag her out to the curb, she emptied her bladder in front of a hundred onlookers. The first clean-up guy on site simply responded, "ce n'est pas grave." No big deal. We continued.

Finally, we met up with Mary Ann. Roxy seemed happy to be reunited after having spent 6 weeks apart. It took another 2 hours with the rental car agency before we were finally on the road from Paris to the South.

I volunteered to take on the Paris traffic, so I could sleep later on. The last four hours of the trip are a blur to me, as I dozed on and off until finally pulling into our drive in Chusclan. I was in bed by 8:00.

And on the second day I rested.
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.